Imagine a Jane Austen-esque setting. Slightly rainy, wintry days in the midlands of the UK circa 1850. Attending tea parties with landed gentry in tow, some minor, former aristocratic nobility sitting in the seat of prominence, taking judgement over the scene and rating the chinaware. Your familial counterpart seeks your countenance on a matter of some romantic liaison or proposal. Terribly exciting for someone whose sole purpose was a good marriage to someone who had a minor fortune, slightly larger than your own so that you could continue to host a similar tea parties for the rest of your days in quiet, comfortable repose. So you ‘take a walk’ about the room. Whispered tones and quiet surreptitious glances in the general direction of all the people both within and without the room of whom you are discussing. This walk is more of a shuffle as the rooms you abide in are not too grand. Its ‘exercise’ in its most meagre form.
So often in the clinic when faced with someone’s fear of the dreaded question - ‘How much exercise do you do’, I receive a confident and bold reply of “Oh I exercise 30min a day at least. I get my exercise on my walk to work.” I’ll be brutally honest here. Its an encouragement that someone is moving 30mins a day and being proactive in their approach to remaining mobile and remaining fit enough to engage in a 30min walk to work. However, too often in an approach to true exercise or ‘moveability’ of our body that keeps ALL our joint open, working and in reasonable shape - a walk is just not enough.
I have talked before about factors that affect our ability to exercise and our way to approach exercise. I am not denying that everyone has their limitations and their own challenges when it comes to scheduling in and completing proper exercise. Walking is the start. But its the start. It’s not the end product. The idea that walking is enough of an exercise regime simply doesn’t wash.
The image I proffer for some people to consider is the sea of uniformed workers of the Chinese Industrial workplace post Cultural revolution circa 1951. The image of the perfect lines of workers all performing basic, standardised calisthenic movements whilst a voice echoes over the radio, every worker moving in perfect unison and chanting praise to the great Chairman Mao’s protection and leadership fo healthy and skilled workers.
Mandatory and communal exercise has long been a staple of Chinese culture with communal Tai Chi classes being an easy example of your average cityscape parkland in any chinese city. This history of enforced exercise programs has infiltrated all levels from Secondary schools shouting class slogans that are chanted out whilst running in lines to create moral and communal bonding. University terms often start with mandatory weeks of military training. Workplaces have instilled a sense of team camaraderie via morning song rituals that illicit shouting and singing whilst vigorous movement is performed as a kind of motivational jump start to the day.
Dare I say it, I believe this practice to be of great benefit to a workforce and to the general health of a population. I smile when riding across the Pyrmont Bridge some mornings when occasionally I will cross paths with a Chinese Woman vigorously swinging her arms up and over her head as she purposefully marches forth in striding steps. By simply adding in an overhead arm position her cardiovascular output is increased in her daily walk and her shoulders are benefitting from activation and range of motion. Far more than a casual walk to work whilst texting.
But to return to the point of exercise. We need to move. And walking moves us, but not all our limbs in all directions. I can liken this to some gym junkies that I know who dedicate hours of their day to their lifting regimes. They are impressive beasts, but ask them if they do any rotational work and a quizzical expression might be the response. The point is, we need to move our limbs in multi dimensional ways to encourage full health.
So whilst walking is a great start - it isn’t going to do a great deal for your chronic shoulder pain that is stopping you from being able to put your t-shirt on in the morning. We don’t all need to be svelt and athletic supermodels to be healthy. This is not attainable. We should all be able to move in basic directions and with cohesive stability. And if we don’t do these movements and encourage them to be a part of our daily lives, this serves as an issue waiting to appear in our later years when we may finally admit that we have time for exercise.
Functional Movement Systems is a program of identifying basic movement patterns that was developed in the late 1990’s by some American Sports Medics and scholars. These basic movement patterns are used to determine if a person is able to perform the basic fundamentals of movement to a satisfactory level. Squats, stepping over hurdles, straight leg raises, trunk stability and rotation as well as shoulder mobility all form the basis of these 7 movements that can often show where we might need to focus our training or movement training to achieve a basic level of movement and thus basic health. In this way, any exercise action or movement, should perhaps include a basis similar to this regime. It shows the basic fundamentals that should be able to be performed by an adequately mobile person and this line of investigation is something movement practitioners should be advocating for their clients. In this way walking doesn’t qualify as a diverse enough movement pattern to be quantified as an ‘adequate’ movement or exercise regime. It definetly forms part of it - but it isn’t challenging enough to encourage a complete and basic measure of health and movement.
Our modern dysfunctions are a product of our isolated and incomplete approaches to exercise imposed on our sedentary lifestyles
Gray Cook (author of Functional Movement Systems) hits the nail quite firmly on the head here with this single phrase. We need to be better at how we approach exercise and movement. We need a more complete model that is built from within to get the best from our bodies for longer. No longer is it enough for your leisurely stroll or ‘turn about the room’. Even in aged care we are more encouraging of getting our elderly to move as much as they possibly can within their limitations and presenting issues. Games with balloons, modified sports programs, dancing classes have all been re-introduced into the network aged care due to the great physical and cognitive benefits.
And so I encourage all of us to look at what movement patterns we engage in and how better we could approach these. It’s not about doing one action, its about incorporating many. And keeping those actions going no matter how small, slow or lightly we employ them. But this movement potential has to remain as open as possible for us so that we don’t lose it in the absence of focused lifestyle choices.